The Past in Pieces

Digging up a Japanese Internment Camp

By Andrea Clark Mason

Having my morning cup of coffee, I open the Lewiston Tribune to an article on a public archeology day at the excavation of a former Japanese internment camp. Over the past ten years of hiking, soaking in hot springs, and rafting on or near the beautiful Clearwater River, I had no idea that Kooskia hosted a facility filled with Japanese men during World War II. The article says University of Idaho assistant professor of anthropology, Stacey Camp, is heading the dig. Interested in finding out more about Stacey and the project, I dial her number.

It turns out that Kooskia housed the only all-male, Japanese internment camp that Stacey knows to have existed in America during the war, and certainly the first to be excavated. Larger and better-known camps, such as Minidoka in southern Idaho, housed families. Men from the Amache camp in Colorado voluntarily left it to help construct Highway 12 in northern Idaho, the first project sponsored by the federal government that used internees as a work force. The Kooskia men, however—among them a San Francisco editor named Kizaemon Ikken Momii and a driver for a Seattle dry cleaning business named Shohei Arase—were forcibly removed from their families by the F.B.I., and were treated like prisoners of war.

Stacey received two grants from her university and one through the National Park Service to excavate the Kooskia site. She and a group of mostly undergraduates began the dig last summer. The plan is to continue the work for four to six weeks every other summer for the next five to ten years, focusing each year on a different theme or area of the site. In the off-years, the team will process and analyze data, write reports, and try to get more grants.

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About Andrea Clark Mason

Andrea Clark Mason has published in High Desert Journal, Permafrost, High Country News, Here We Have Idaho, and elsewhere.  She lives in Moscow and teaches writing at Washington State University.

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